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Weekly Column: Drought Watch


Location: Unknown

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow. This phrase from a popular Christmas song has never before been sung with such sincerity and intensity as it is this year across Nebraska.

With more than 96 percent of Nebraska suffering from extreme or exceptional drought, we desperately need the moisture. Farmers and ranchers have been battling severe drought conditions across the entire state, in what has become one of the driest and hottest spells on record.

Drought conditions extend to more than 60 percent of the contiguous United States and have become a national crisis for ag producers. With below-average precipitation expected this winter season, these conditions may continue for the foreseeable future.

As this drought draws on, I continue to monitor the changing conditions and how they impact our state's economy and our ag producers. I met last week with members of the National Drought Mitigation Center team based in Lincoln. They have been following every aspect of the drought in Nebraska and across the country, providing risk management information and best practices for those coping with the lack of moisture.

Nebraska's farmers and ranchers are no stranger to natural disaster and the importance of risk management. Just last year, the problem wasn't a lack of water, but rather an overabundance of it. Over the years, ag producers have adjusted their practices to increase efficiency and minimize risk. The increased use of crop insurance has limited the amount of costly federal emergency disaster programs needed to protect against such disasters.

Ag producers are doing their part to make it through the worst drought since the dustbowl, and it's important that Congress does its part as well. While we can't make it rain, we can and should provide much needed certainty and assistance for farmers and ranchers through a new farm bill. Existing farm policy -- including programs which provide relief in times of drought and other disaster -- have expired. If action is not taken, we will be reverting to agriculture policy created in the 1940s.

I am continuing to push for action on a five-year farm bill. It's crucial we provide much needed disaster assistance for ag producers dealing with weather conditions like drought. Admittedly, time is growing short for action by New Year's Eve so it's important to remember that we have been here before. Farm bills often drag into the next season, but Congress must act and give farmers a clear picture of the policies impacting their work before the next round of spring planting.

Farmers and ranchers have weathered many storms, and I believe this one will be no different. But, Congress should not add to the challenges Mother Nature provides. Ag producers and taxpayers alike deserve an updated farm bill that is fiscally responsible and reform minded, and we should not let any more time unnecessarily slip away.

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